It’s Been Ages: Suri, Denver, Suri, Home, Suri, Sint Maarten

Tuesday 8 September to 22 November 2015

Well it has been a long while since my last post. I had a free day in Paramaribo on 8 September after I returned from Windsor, and on this day I found out my Grandfather was diagnosed with a brain tumour with a very short prognosis. With that devastating news I started my rotation. It was the most hectic yet as the project hit peak, I moved into a new camp and there were many meetings (including one week in Denver), issues and events that occupied my time. None of it fully planned. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the only thing that stresses me out is when everyone wants a piece of me. I felt it more than I think ever before.

With flights booked back to Perth hopeful to see my Grandfather one last time, I was scheduled to land on my nephews 3rd birthday and grand final day with my team, the West Coast Eagles, in the Aussie rules football ultimate game. Flight delayed. Not an hour, not a day, but 2 days. Luckily my good friend Madison was on the same flight to Amsterdam so we spent a couple days in Parbo. Worse places to be, and being in a fine hotel such as the Marriott is better than most places. I finally departed Parbo early evening on 3 October and slept on 4 continents in 4 days to get home. I won’t detail my 8 days at home in Perth. Other than to say it was important to be with family, the first time for 9 months, and the funeral went all according to plan. My time on the ground was brief and I experienced another flight cancellation along the way. But who complains in these circumstances.

I flew back 16 October (my cousins 18th Birthday!) 3 days early (which I will take for a Perth Christmas) for an audit. Went well and set me up for a 27 day rotation as I also stayed a bit longer. Busy but productive, with some memorable moments of hiring people, giving promotions, playing complex boardgames, work mates birthdays, booking my home Christmas flights and Madison resigning. Never a dull moment in Suriname and I still struggle to find the time to just be by myself and catch up on outside life. It’s quite social here! Which is weird considering the work hours are longer than Ghana.

With all that it was time for a break on 14 November. On an island, in a vacation rental, with no expectations, bookings, or must dos. Time to be alone. Let go of the work persona. Enter the Dutch colony of Sint Maarten. I only booked the trip a week before and the only planning was to fly into one island and out from another. There were a lot of Airbnb places to choose from and I’m really glad I picked a good one.

I went out with some work friends the night before flying out and with a 230am pick up for the airport we didn’t sleep. I was flying with another guy on the same first flight so we shared the weariness together. At least until Trinidad where he went home to Canada and I connected to the Dutch side of Sint Maarten. A short taxi trip to my Beacon Hill apartment and I thought I would crash out, but it was only 9:30am and a whole beautiful Saturday ahead so I powered up and explored. Simpson beach is windy and turbulent but beautiful to look at. The airstrip runs parallel to this beach so the roar of the jet engines is a bit distracting. I found a couple of nice bars and much to my stomachs surprise I was enjoying tequila sunrises. Nice. Then to the grocery store to stock up. This involved a trek passed the Sunset Bar and Grill overlooking Maho beach, which is famous for the low flying aeroplanes that land just metres from the beach. Crazy dangerous but awesome. People stand where the signs say don’t go so they can be literally blown away by the jet blast as planes take off. The force is a lot stronger than I thought, with people holding on to the fence so not to get blown back.

I ended up extending my stay by two nights to make it 9. I just wasn’t ready to move on. And that’s the beauty of travelling without a plan. Some days I stayed in and caught up on my life. Other days I ventured to the main town Phillipsburg. Most adventurous I got was a day trip to the English colony of Anguilla with an organised tour. The day was sunny and clear, but unfortunately the surf was up and the beach not as incredible as everyone makes it out to be. The sun sets early at 5:35pm so the evenings feel longer, which is good when I don’t want to spend full days touring.

The apartment was blissfully quiet and modern for $139 USD per night very reasonable for the location. The owner lives in NYC and this is his vacation home that he rents out when vacant. The terrace had a nice view, but the waves reverberated off the enclosed space making it loud and having to shut the door to hear TV or music. Annoyingly the owner has a property manager who seemed to come and go as he pleased. One morning before 8am I’m still asleep and he came to hose down the salt from the terrace. Very invasive and not what you expect from a vacation rental. But other than these two things it was great. Oh and the owner only charged me a tiny fraction of the rate for the two nights I extended which was a welcome saving.

With the batteries recharged, the mind freed, the sleep reserves built up…time for some island hopping…

Denver & Orlando: A Birth, U2 and THE Rolling Stones

Saturday 6 June to Tuesday 16 June 2015

travellingross rating = 10/10

The flight to Paramaribo on Surinam Air has become a little bumpy. The big black woman next to me who prayed when we took off from Miami has now started singing softly. To calm herself I suppose. I’ve just watched ‘The Accused’ with Jodie Foster on my phone. A 1988 movie that I’ve long overdue watched. And one of the few movies that survived the great external hard drive loss of 2015. This is where it ends. Where did it begin I hear you yell, let me tell you…

I met up with Melissa in Miami and we rented a car to explore the shops and see ‘Entourage’ movie at the cinema. One of my fav tv shows of the last 5 years made into a movie that doesn’t leap from small to big screen but entertaining nonetheless. Melissa returned the vehicle to the airport and had a few more days in town before returning to site. I on the other hand was off to Denver. First time I’ve ever booked flights the night before. Spontaneous is not really in Travellingross vocabulary.  Leaving things to the last minute is. So I had known for months that this weekend 7 June was the date my close friend Matt’s (re Rockies January ski trip) 1st baby was due along with the U2 tour hitting his home town of Denver. Good enough reasons for me to visit. And it turned out fateful given as I stepped off the cruise boat into Wi-Fi freedom, baby labour was on and during my flights to Denver the baby boy was born 2 days early. Layover in Charlotte which is also the first time I’ve ever googled “where am I” and intriguingly told North Carolina. Ok.

Staying in the Courtyard Marriott downtown off the 16th street mall was a nice choice. But for the 5 nights I needed, it was only available for 3 so I had to shift to a dodgy motel near Matt where my neighbours were permanent residents with cats. On the Saturday, I was able to see baby Tucker within 24 hrs of birth and introduce Matt to the concept of ‘wetting the baby’s head’ at the local bar. Sunday was a wander around town and then meeting my former Boddington boss at a bar near the Pepsi Center ahead of U2. I saw him for a brief moment in my January Denver visit but this was first real time hanging out for 6 years. When I first met Tom in 2006 it was a pivotal moment in my life when I was meant to transfer to the Adelaide head quarters and so I bought U2 concert tickets for their Vertigo tour at the Adelaide oval. It was a hit album and everyone, including long-time fan Tom, wanted to go so he got tickets as well. But I was abruptly transferred to join Tom in the small town of Boddington for a new gold mine expansion project I’d never heard of and we both sold our U2 tickets. So attending a U2 show 9 years later in Denver with the man who made my career is a bit special for both of us. And the show did not disappoint. Although an arena rather than stadium show (like the one I saw in Perth in 2010), it was epically grand with amazing effects, lighting, vocals, and twists that make me admire this band even more. I’d read that most songs were from their latest less-than-successful album, but this show is sold as every night being different and every song I wanted to hear was there and the encore 3 were my 3 favourites in an order I predicted to the randoms we befriended: City of Blinding Lights, Where the streets have no name, and One.

I caught up with Matt’s new family a couple more times before flying out Wednesday morning 10 June to Orlando. It was time to save some money so I booked a Days Inn, which are budget hotels that have been adequate for me in the past. This one was next to the county jail. But 50 bucks a night! I was more worried about the reviews of bed bugs than the prisoner visitors over-nighting creating fights. I heard plenty of arguments and a few late night parties with the obligatory car park burnouts, but above all no bed bugs. Phew. The only reason for Orlando on my itinerary was The Rolling Stones concert Friday night. Many encouraged me to visit the theme parks and Disneyworld. But my Disney dream was to put up the do not disturb sign for 6 successive nights and do what everyone else does on their weekends.

The Stones were beyond brilliant.  Enormous stadium, high energy show for anyone let alone 70+ year olds, hit after hit, and exceptional seats right next to the ‘cat walk’ as the woman next to me called it. It seemed the whole city was excited about this show as it dominated news, radio and bars around the venue. Even my hotel price tripled for the night. Similar to U2, attending this concert had history. Seeing the Stones in concert has been on my list for years and they were scheduled to play Perth in March 2014 and better yet I was home for it. Cancelled. Due to Mick Jagger’s girlfriend committing suicide. So when I saw a 12 date North American tour scheduled a couple months ago, I got VIP tickets and planned the entire break around the 12th June in Orlando. Crazy for some, exorbitant for others, life for me. Long-term mega successful artists and entities like the Rolling Stones inspire me, and yes I have a list of artists I’d like to see. Irrelevant whether u like their music, it’s undeniable they perfected their craft and sell a product that still packs 60,000+ seat stadiums. Lyrics written 50 years ago that connect to an audience today. And I like their music. It reminds me of family car trips, cleaning my Bodd house and that I can’t always get what I want. But if you try sometimes, you get what you need.

The concert finished just before midnight and I didn’t get to sleep til 4am. Mostly because there seems to be no taxi stand or hotel in downtown Orlando. I had to share with two women heading to sea world and I had to give directions to the driver. Orlando is not somewhere I’d return. Unless you come with friends to do the theme parks and stay at one of them. But it was a good opportunity to visit a suburban mall and catch up on things.

Feeling fulfilled after a productive relaxing entertaining break, the bumpy Surinam Air flight landed in Paramaribo in the early hours of 17 June and I arrived at the hotel at 2:30 am, couldn’t sleep until 4am, awake at 7:15am, in a vehicle to site at 8:30am, straight into the Managers Meeting at 1:30pm. Hitting the ground running. Time to pay for an expensive break.

Denver was Coloradical

Saturday 24 January 2015 to Tuesday 3 February 2015

Landing at the Denver airport Saturday night 24 January I was met by my friend Matt who I work with and will stay with him and his pregnant wife for the next 10 days. First task was to talk to the lost baggage people to see if my missing suitcase was at the airport as planned. It wasn’t. I suspected it wouldn’t be based on conversations I had leading up to this moment. Instead of Denver, it’s at London Heathrow terminal 5. hmmm. But the guy at Denver airport has been very helpful. And Matt has listened to my suitcase story so many times that I’m surprised he still let’s me talk about it!

Matt lives in the suburbs and went to a lot of effort to make me feel welcome. His wife is a great cook too. Nice change to be in a house rather than a hotel on my breaks. And have someone play tour guide and driver where everything is organised and planned for me. We did a lot during the ten days.

Highlights Reel

Golden: 9/10 on the travellingross-o-meter. Mainly so high ranking cause it was my first full day on break, in Denver, and with a great mate. We did a tour of the Coors brewery which was free and included many tasters. Went up to the lookout where buffalo bill is buried and looked across the broader Denver area. Not a pretty town in this season with everything brown or grey. Day ended when I took my hosts out for dinner.

Australia Day: 8/10. My fav holiday and this time in the US of A. I cooked BBQ, we played pool in the basement, Frisbee at the park with Matt’s friend (unsurprisingly I suck at throwing a Frisbee when aiming for a basket), I bought a Fosters t shirt from Target, we drank a bottle of Jameson and streamed the triple j hottest 100. The latter made little sense to anyone in the room as not even I know the songs or listen to triple j. But it’s the thing to do on Oz day. It was also the day Matt and Katie found out they’re having a baby boy. Celebrations all round.

Winter Park ski trip: 8/10. The reason I brought all my ski clothes and things back from home was for this. Now they are in that stupid missing suitcase. So we replaced the essentials and headed up the Rockies to one of Matt’s fav ski resorts and only 1.5 hrs from home. Scenic drive up there through winding roads and watching the temp gauge drop. I hate the cold but with the right clothes and for the right reasons (i.e. Skiing) I can tolerate it. The hotel Matt booked was perfect and right on the edge of mountain – no need to carry skis for miles each day like in Japan!! 2.5 days of skiing is tiring, especially with the evening outings, but it’s fun and I enjoy it. The slopes here are diverse and many runs to choose from. My fav was off the Sunny Side lift called Edelweiss. Unfortunately no big snow falls during our stay but clear weather was also nice. I still haven’t had a ski trip in big powder so must go again until I get that. Plus next time I want to take lessons to get better at turns and general technique. I just do it for fun and don’t want to be brilliant. Matt has been skiing since a kid and very good so I’m glad he was patient to go on the medium runs with me. Only once did he try kill me. On Parsons Bowl steep slope, trees and bumps where travellingross had a bit of ski anger cause it was way beyond my skill level. At this point I did not enjoy snow, the Rockies, skiing, or Matt. Thankfully I ended with a few runs on Edelweiss and a shot of jager to bring back the fun travellingross.

Superbowl Sunday: 5/10. The highlight of this day was the 6 inches of snow that fell overnight so when I woke and looked out the window there was such a different landscape than the day before and it was surreal for me. Never seen before. We picked up some booze and headed over to Matt’s uni friends place to watch the game. I have no idea how the game works so just enjoyed the ads, half time Katy boobs Perry show and beer.

Denver HQ: 6/10. I had the morning to myself before meeting Matt at our work head office for lunch. It’s in a sterile ‘tech centre’ and made me glad I work on site. It was good to see the head office after hearing about it for a decade, and catch up with work colleagues I’ve not seen in years, but not a place I’d rush to work at.

Shopping: 7/10. Finally, on last full day, I got a chance to replace some of my missing belongings by heading to the mall. We finished in downtown so Matt could get some “party favours” (novelty items u take to parties or farewells to give to people…yeah right) for his last rotation in Suriname. For final night, I once again shouted dinner and it was one of the best meals I’ve had. Even though I was in a borrowed dress shirt from Matt that was 2 sizes too large, but he says I chose the most expensive in his closet!

Random Observations & Rants

  1. Getting searched by customs when I arrived in Miami was the most intense luggage search I’ve had. I must’ve looked suspicious and no one in USA can comprehend that I work in Suriname, a place they’ve never heard of.
  2. I woke up to a blood nose on the ski mountain – high altitude.
  3. The checking of ID is excessive at restaurants, bars and anywhere that sells alcohol. I got refused a drink twice. Once cause I forgot my ID (at the top of a ski mountain!!) and another cause they wouldn’t accept my foreign drivers licence as ID. Absolutely absurd. And people say Australia is a heavily regulated country. Colorado has legalised marijuana, clearly cause they need to chill out some more.
  4. Coloradical was a sticker on a car I saw.
  5. Having a waiter ask u “how’s everything” 6 times during a meal is so irritating. I get that American wages are driven by tips but the constant intrusion on your table to ask how the meal is, whether you need anything, how’s your day been etc etc drives me nuts.
  6. People are so friendly here that at times I felt like saying “Do I know you?”. When they ask you where you’re from, how you got here, where you work, your blood type (ok maybe an exaggeration but you get the point)….all in the 6 minutes to ride a chair lift up the mountain.